Monday, April 26, 2010

COMMENTARY: Disrespect of Artists by Artists

"I rarely lose my temper, and only then when someone talks down to me,
or when I see people treating other people with disrespect."
Sandra Bullock [emphasis added by me]

Many posts to various lists from time to time reference disrespect shown to textile artists – primarily in terms of the way textile art is returned from venues (e.g. crammed into too small boxes; box being poorly sealed; etc.), the way textile art is sometimes displayed at venues, and the lack of security at some venues which has allowed the artwork to be stolen, mutilated (in one instance a piece was slashed to steal an antique button), or fingered. This is aside from the general lack of respect for the medium itself that often is encountered.

While all of these and similar incidences are distressing, it is the utter lack of respect that textile artists sometimes display toward each other that I find to be particularly disturbing. A recent occurrence provides a good example of this.

The venue for a highly publicized and critically acclaimed exhibit held a reception that was attended by 65 of the artists (who flew in from all over the country) as well as by more than 600 guests. The energy and excitement was palpable.

What is unbelievable is that several of the artists brought with them to the reception work that they had created for a totally unrelated exhibit and had the audacity as well as the unmitigated gall to proceed to display them on the floor of the exhibit space. This not only: 1) blocked access to the artwork that was legitimately part of the exhibition; 2) intentionally deflected attention away from the art that viewers came to see; but also 3) confused viewers because the subject matter clearly did not relate to the theme of the exhibition.

The brazenness and absolute arrogance with which this occurred is astounding (those extra quilts clearly did not bring themselves to the exhibit, they did not position themselves in the exhibit space, and no permission to do so was sought). The impertinence of it all and the contempt this action expressed toward the museum, the artwork on exhibit, the other artists and the curator is reprehensible. How low can you sink? How self-serving and narcissistic can you be? How pathetic is the need to stroke one’s own ego at the expense of fellow artists?

What possible rationale could these offenders offer that would justify this offensive and discourteous behavior? From my perspective, there is none. What I wonder is if such a cavalier attitude would have been displayed if the exhibit venue had been…
  1. The Renwick or Quilt National?
  2. The High Museum or the National Quilt Museum?
  3. The Museum of Modern Art or the International Quilt Study Center and Museum?
  4. The Museum of Arts and Design or the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles? 
  5. The Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum?
I think not.

I still find myself in the throes of utter disbelief that this occurred. Not only was it highly offensive to all parties affected, it was extremely unprofessional.

I believe that quite a few people are owed a sincere and abject apology.


Rebel Quilter said...

I whole-heartedly agree. It is a shame that their egos were such that they felt justified in using a moment carefully engineered to spotlight the juried artists and their art while subverting the attention of the attendees. Thank you for speaking up.

Willa said...

I am not familiar with this occurence but certainly someone needed to speak up about it. Wow! Must have taken a lot of restraint for the curator not to have them removed forcibly.

Deb said...

The timing and the numbers makes me think this happened at AQE..regardless, what is keeping you from naming names?

I would in a heartbeat, complete with pictures.

Judith Stadler said...

Awful, rude, arrogant. Did these people actually think this was a good way to promote their own art? What is AQE?

Carol Dean said...

I'm glad that you aren't naming names...but only because these so-called artists don't deserve any more attention than that which they have already stolen. How very sad :(

Kathleen Loomis said...

so why didn't the organizers politely (or impolitely) remove the extraneous quilts? it takes two to disrespect

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

1. The curator didn't find out about it until the next day. She never got a chance to leave the reception area because there were so many people that wanted to talk to her.

2. The venue wasn't AQE - I'm also not sure what the AQE is. American Quilt Expo???

3. The offending quilts were finally removed - and my understanding is that the circumstance surrounding their removal was definitely not polite.

4. I really don't understand the comment "It takes two to disrespect." The venue did not disrespect anything - the victims of this action were at fault??? That makes no sense to me.


Anne Copeland said...

Wow! Quilt exhibit crashing!!! I have never heard of anything like this, but I totally agree with the writing about it.

And I also agree about artists disrespecting other artists. I think sometimes some artists have developed such a high opinion of themselves (earned or not) that they can't be bothered to talk to the very people who support them.

There are lots of ways this happens, and I have no idea what it is all about. Why DO people do these things? It seems to me they are only hurting their own selves.

I can't imagine how these artists managed to even get their quilts into the exhibit along with some way of displaying them. Was there no one on duty at the show? Seems like they could have been arrested or at least removed from the exhibit. That is just so tasteless and disrespectful.

I agree with the others; thank you for speaking about this. People need to know.

Jeanne said...

AQE is Art Quilt Elements, an art quilt show in Wayne, PA. Well worth visiting for anyone in the mid-Atlantic.
I can't imagine bringing my work to a show, even if I had work in the show. Could it be that people who started as traditional quilters and are used to "show and tell" thought this was another opportunity? I'm not excusing the behavior, just trying to understand their thinking. And, I wish we would all speak up for one another - if it was disrespectful, why not say something to the people doing it? It might have been an educational moment for them.

wlstarn said...

Sounds rude and obnoxious to me. The ONLY exception to bringing in extra art is if you happen to be wearing a piece of actual wearable art clothing (not a jacket with a quilt pinned to the back to make yourself into an extra gallery wall, but a piece designed to be worn). I do wear original designed clothing (appropriate to the occasion) to receptions, but don't make a big deal of it. After all, I have to wear something, especially to the reception at the Church show. Fig leaves would not be appreciated. :-)

If I were meeting out of town friends at a show & wanted to share work, there are more appropriate ways. At dinner, after the reception. Privately in the parking lot or hotel room.

This sounds like a protest action of some kind. Why would one protest having work accepted to a show? Mind boggling.

Carolyn said...

It takes two to disrespect???? I assume you think the museum personnel and guest curator aided and abated in this incident. How utterly ridiculous to assume we sabotaged our own event by inviting/supporting such behavior.

The event was the artist reception for the exhibition Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama, held at the National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio. I am the exhibition curator. During the day of the reception I never made it into the exhibit hall because I was in the reception area greeting guests. I heard about the incident the next day. Had I been in the exhibit area I most certainly would have had the quilts removed.

Carolyn Mazloomi

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

1) This occurence was not a protest action - the offending artists were juried into the exhibit and their work was on display. Guess they felt that for some reason they deserved extra attention.

2) I still can't get pass the comment that "It takes two to disrespect." But I guess blaming the victim has become rampart in our society. To me, this kind of thinking is very reminiscent of telling a rape victim that somehow it was all her fault.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

The word I meant to use in my above comment is rampant (not rampart).


eyequilt said...

I know one person who took her latest work to the reception because she knew many of her friends would be there.

This sounds innocuous on the surface--I thought she'd meet them before or after the reception-- but I had no idea that she (or anyone else) would bring her work to the reception, not to mention putting it on the floor in the display area.

Frankly, I'm shocked.

Sherry Boram said...

To Gwen, all the artists with pieces in the JOURNEY OF HOPE exhibit, all who attended the artist reception in Wilberforce on April 17, and especially to Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, Exhibition Curator, Ms. Edna C. Diggs, Museum Curator and all the staff. I apologize as I was one of the artists who brought a quilt for an upcoming exhibit that day.

There is no way to justify our bad judgement. It was rude and disrespectful and I am glad that you called us on it, Gwen.

To explain how this came about, a few of the group that organized for another exhibition of quilts inspired by the election of President Barack Obama in Silver Spring, MD, February, 2009, have/are making pieces for a new project called RACISM: A Dialog in Art Quilts. We are from all over the country, and mostly communicate online.

When we were anticipating being together on April 17 in Wilberforce, it was suggested that we bring our works in progress to share, inspire, and critique. Because I work small, I was visualizing doing this in the car, from the trunk of the car, or in a restaurant after the reception (which some did). The pieces that we brought ranged from small to very large, so were laid on the floor in the exhibit space.

Speaking for myself, I would never have intentionally disrespected the event, the artists, the guests, and all the day represented. I'm certain the others feel the same way. Our passion for using art to address the issues of racism in America clouded our judgement.

Again, I am sorry.

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

1) Yes, Anne - some artists have a really inflated sense of their own importance.

2) Jeanne, thanks for the AQE explanation. For some reason, I've never seen it referred to by the acronym, so I just couldn't figure it out. Frankly, I can't imagine that any of the offenders would have done this at Art Quilt Elements.

3) No, these artists were definitely far away from their traditional quilt creating days, so I don't think that played into it.

4) As Wistern pointed out, the wanting to share their work with each other was in and of itself not the problem. As she indicated, they could have easily have done so by meeting before or afterwards at the hotel or at dinner. Or they could have gotten together in the parking lot. It is the audaciousness of feeling entitled to actually display the work within the exhibit that makes your mouth drop open.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Sherry, thank you so much for speaking up about your involvement and going public with your apology. Your courage in doing so speaks volumes about your character, ethics and professionalism.

We all make mistakes from time to time. Its how we deal with them that definitely separates the wheat from the chaff.


Janna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janna said...

I think what the person who said, 'it takes two to offend' meant was that if the organizers did not do anything about it, they were partly responsible too. But, it sounds like the pieces were removed when the organizers learned about them.

Jeanette Thompson said...

I would like to second the words of Sherry as another one of the artists that brought and displayed a quilt. Never for a moment did we think that what we did was offensive, nor do any of us have such high opinions of ourselves that we think we are better than anyone else at the exhibit. All of us have utmost respect for the type of art we make, the exhibit we were privileged enough to be in, the venue and Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi.

We were caught up in the excitement of the event, like Gwen mentioned, the energy and excitement was palpable. This just fueled our passion for the next event that was sparked by Obama’s presidency.

In the moment we did not see how rude we could appear, and it saddens me greatly that we brought any kind of negativity to the event. The reception for all of us was an incredible event that we all felt so honored to be a part of. I hope that the quilt community, that we are so thrilled to be a part of, will forgive us for our ignorance.

Thank you Gwen for pointing this out, if you had not, who knows if this mistake would be made again by us and others. It was foolish and the whole thing embarrasses me.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Jann, From my viewpoint, however you spin that remark, it still reads as an attempt to shift the blame. I don't buy it.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Jeanette, Thank you for your comment. You and Sherry are courageous and your actions regarding this matter are commendable.


Anonymous said...

Wow...I've worked on several exhibits, and am astounded that this happened, with more than one artist involved. Could it be that the artists had never been part of an 'art' venue and do not know the rules? Did they decide on this action together? I would have taken them aside and asked them to remove the work that was not juried in, out of respect to the works that were juried and as a liability issue. Perhaps future calls for the event need to clearly state that only accepted works will be exhibited. Wow!

arlee said...

How can we keep trying to prove that quilts *are* Art when this sort of thing happens???? if these people feel they can bring their art into a show/gallery/exhibit and feel their work supersedes that of a professionally curated and exhibited... then *they* are the ones who are belittling quilts as art. Painters don't attend galleries where Julian Schnabel is exhibiting and bring their own daubs to put on the floor. If someone put their quilt art in front of my exhibit, i'd be pretty damn upset too.
I'm glad to see some apologies here, but fer gawds sake what the original thought in acting this way was, is beyond me.

Janna said...

Fair enough. I'm not saying I agree with what that person may or may not be meaning my their comment. What happened was awful and it is no one else' fault. That poor curator had to deal with the reproductions.

Sabrina said...

I believe Sherry and Jeannette have explained how we had planned to get together at the end of the exhibit to share some of our works on another project. I got swept away by the emotions I was feeling and no disrespect was intended. If I am guilty of anything it would be naiveté. It was a poor choice. Once again, my profound apologies.

Susan Shie said...

Hello everyone. I just this morning found out about the blog article and comments here, and am so very, very sorry that we caused so much upset and anger. We all were and are honestly making our art to celebrate President Obama's election and to support his work. We all are working to promote harmony between people in our country, not to create distrust and anger. We made a big mistake, but we were naive. I also know that ignorance is no excuse.

I am the one to blame, not the others.

It was my idea to share our works, to bring the works we are making for another Obama related show, and look at them together. We only wanted to lay them out and look at them together, not to pretend that they were part of this wonderful exhibition. We weren't thinking at all about trying to get people to admire or notice more works. We were stupid to not think about how this would be taken wrong, as we were caught up in the moment of sharing related works that we'd been talking online about for months.

The reception was to be from 3-5 PM, and we laid our works on the floor at the end of the reception, in front of my works, trying to keep them out of the way. We removed our works ourselves, with no one either telling us we should not have our works on the floor or telling us to remove them.

I wish someone had told us we were being offensive. I know we would have taken our work up as soon as that would have happened, because the last thing we wanted to do was to offend anyone, to be disrespectful, or to appear rude and egotistic. We were caught up in the excitement of sharing our new works. I think we weren't told to remove our works, because everyone felt awkward about telling us we were being very offensive. I understand that.

But I hope you can try to understand that we were fired up about what we were sharing. Our works are for a show that started because of how President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize announcement led to a flood reaction of barely hidden racism in this country, and how that racism needs to be addressed. I know that doesn't mean we had the right to lay them out in this wonderful show, but we did feel safe there, among kindred spirits. We were not trying to push our works on others there, but to share with each other.

I know that all of us are miserable that we offended so many people and wish we could take it all back. It's my fault, and I am deeply, deeply sorry. I fully respect every artist in Journey of Hope, the wonderful staff at this incredible museum, and certainly the curators Ms Diggs and Dr Mazloomi. I take full blame and I ask everyone for a chance to act with better judgement and more dignity in the future.

Sincerely, Susan Shie

Susan Shie said...

PS. I want to add to my last post that I fully apologize to everyone who's read about this incident, for the offense I caused to everyone, not to just the artists in the show, the museum staff, and the curators.

I am genuinely sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness. I also ask that you don't blame my friends who followed my lead, in laying our works on the museum floor. If I hadn't suggested it, it wouldn't have happened.

Sinceerly, Susan Shie

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Sabrina and Susan, thank you also for coming forward. Your candor is appreciated. Hopefully this has been a learning experience for us all. As stated earlier, we all do make mistakes from time to time. Its how we deal with them that is important.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Ann, These were not artists who were "inexperienced" with exhibiting. But somehow they got "off track" with what is and isn't appropriate.

Arlee, One clarification - the artists who were involved actually had work that already was on display in the exhibit.